A person holding a sandwich fulfilling their hiking nutrition.

Hiking Nutrition Tips: 7 Ways to Stay Energized and Healthy on the Trail [2023]

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Staying energized and healthy out on the trail is vital to having a good time and can be done pretty easily by following just a few hiking nutrition tips.

Not only is it important to your health, but also can help ensure that you stay safe out there and are able to continue hiking.

Whether it be choosing the right types of food or making sure that you’re eating enough of said food, your nutrition may not be the first thing on your mind.

But because of how important it is, I wanted to leave you with a few tips to help you stay healthy out there and be fueled up for your day on the trail.

I asked fellow blogger Harry Snell from Outdoors Obsession to provide some great tips for you. Harry loves to travel, cycle touring, and hiking. But when he isn’t outdoors, he works as a nutritionist!

Top Hiking Nutrition Tips for Staying Healthy on Trail

Below you’ll find a few of the top tips to help you stay healthy on the trail including food ideas, ways to stay hydrated, and what to pack.

1. Take More Food Than You Think You Need

Hiking is unpredictable and can often take you to places far away from civilization.

The last thing you want to happen is to be left without food. It’s always best to pack a few extra high-calorie foods to get you by – just in case!

Plus, hiking can be pretty demanding and you may end up hungrier than you think you will be.

So you’ll be thanking yourself for packing those extra energy bars or nut mixes when you’re on the trail!

2. Opt for Low-Volume, Calorie Dense Foods When Possible

The weight and size of what you take with you is important when hiking.

Packing bulky foods will use a lot of valuable space, and you may need to pack less to fit it all.

A nutrition bar that I ate on a hike.

Opting for smaller, lightweight items that contain a lot of calories is the best way to get the energy you need while preserving valuable space in your backpack.

Many people who backpack often pack items such as freeze-dried meals, granola, protein bars, tuna packets, or beef jerky.

3. Don’t Forget Your Protein

Protein is super important for recovery and is the hardest macronutrient to get from your food.

Make sure you include good protein sources in all your meals – especially at the beginning of the day.

Protein helps so that our bodies don’t break down muscle tissue, as well as helps keep our immune systems strong.

For day hikes, it can be easy to fit protein into your diet at lunchtime through different sandwiches or wraps.

You can supplement with protein bars, beef jerky, or whey protein if you find it difficult to get enough protein while hiking.

4. Choose Foods That Won’t React Negatively With You

I know many people who continue to eat foods that they have intolerances to and put up with an upset stomach.

While you’re out on the trail, you’re going to feel a lot more uncomfortable than if you’re sat at home.

It’s a lot easier to deal with an upset stomach when you’re just sitting on the couch at home.

Choose foods that you know agree with you to avoid having to make a stop on the side of the trail…

5. Supplement if Needed

Supplement if you don’t think you can get what you need through the food you take on your hike.

This allows you to reduce the bulk you carry walking as supplements often come in lightweight tablets or powders.

6. Hydrate Yourself Often

You can get away without eating for a few days or more, but you NEED to keep hydrated for your body to function normally.

For every hour you don’t drink your body slowly reduces in performance. It’s recommended to have 1/2 liter of water per hour of hiking.

Some ham rollups that were a nutritious hiking lunch.

Especially when you’re hiking in the winter, it can be easy to forget to drink water. But it’s so important, no matter the season!

The best way I find to keep hydrated on a hike is to use a hydration bladder or reservoir, such as this 2-liter one from Osprey.

7. Remember that Recovery Nutrition is Very Important

I know that you can often feel tired after hiking and it’s really easy to be lazy and eat anything that just tastes nice, but remember that you’ve just exercised.

The fastest way to recover is to give yourself what your body needs – protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

You can get this from a good meal solid meal that includes lots of vegetables, some protein, and good carbohydrates.

This can be harder to accomplish if you’re getting backpacking food, but most freeze-dried meals have what you’ll need to recover for the night!

What Are the Best Types of Foods to Eat While Hiking?

Hiking presents a number of challenges with food, from figuring out what to eat, how to carry it, and possibly even how to cook it!

For day hikes, you’re really only going to need snacks and possibly one meal, assuming that you’ll be back home for dinner to make a nice meal.

The best types of foods for a 1-day hike are low-volume, energy-dense items that are already prepared or don’t need cooking.

Or something you can quickly prepare beforehand at home since you probably don’t want to waste a lot of the day making meals.

The two main things to think about are energy and nutrients

A bowl of tuna pasta salad eaten on a hike.

Eating foods that are packed with nutrients and healthy ingredients is the best way to stay energized and have the ultimate hiking nutrition.

You can get away with eating a few more “treat-like” foods, like chocolate or sweets while hiking due to the number of calories you burn on the trail. 

But try to avoid eating too many of these, as they can weigh you down and they don’t bring a lot of value to your body.

Micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) are less important in the short term, and things like vegetables can be impractical to carry.

If you are going on multi-day hikes though, it’s important to get your vitamins and minerals as you want to be feeling in top shape for your adventure.

Most freeze-dried meals, such as the ones that you can purchase from Mountain House, have many nutrients that you’ll need.

What Should I Eat Before Hiking?

Your meal before hiking is probably the easiest as you’re likely to be at home where you can cook and store food.

I always recommend getting a good all-around meal with a large portion of protein, plus a good amount of carbohydrates and fats. 

As you’re setting off on an adventure where you’re likely to be burning a lot of calories, you can get away with eating a bit more in this meal.

It all depends though on how soon you would be eating before you start hiking as you want to leave enough time for it to digest and for you to be able to walk comfortably.

I’d also focus on getting a nice portion of fruit or vegetables into this meal as it can be harder to carry and prepare these for the trail.

Some good breakfast options include things like oatmeal, breakfast sandwiches, omelets, and protein bars.

What Should I Eat While Hiking?

As mentioned before, what you eat on your hike depends on how long you are going to be out on the trail.

For a shorter day hike, I usually take some snacks, such as things like;

  • Chocolate
  • Nut Bars
  • Trail Mix and dried fruit
  • Fruits like apples & bananas
  • Beef jerky

If I’m out on a longer day hike and will be stopping for a real meal, I’ll usually pack something a bit more filling.

A small stove used to cook in the backcountry.

This also applies to the times when I’m out on the trail and looking for backpacking nutrition and need something that is easy to pack.

But in this case, you’ll probably want something warmer, rather than a sandwich.

Below you’ll find examples of meals that can be prepared at home and brought along, as well as ones that can be prepared on the trail;

  • A sandwich
  • Pasta and tuna salad
  • Ham, rice & vegetables
  • Freeze-dried meals
  • Cured/hard meats
  • Canned food (consider the weight)
  • Dried foods like rice & pasta

As a bonus, if you want to cover all bases and make sure you’re getting the best hiking nutrition, you could also supplement with whey protein, greens powder, or multivitamins.

You can mix all these with water and they offer super bang-for-your-buck nutrition.

What Should I Eat After Hiking?

Assuming that you are not trying to lose weight, you are gonna want to fully refuel after your hike.

This means getting enough calories, protein, and nutrients in so that your body can recover properly.

A plate of spaghetti that could be eaten after a day on the trail.

Any good meal will usually cover this. Just make sure it has enough protein and vegetables.

I also like to supplement with magnesium after my hike, as it can sometimes be difficult to get it in sufficient quantities from our food.

Using a supplement can make sure you not lacking this vital nutrient, which can lead to muscle cramping.

What is the Importance of Food in Hiking?

For most of us, we are out in the wild to feel the outdoors, explore and have an adventure. The food we eat is just there as fuel and to help us feel as good as possible during the hike.

You’re going to be burning calories and putting your body under more stress than normal so just like a car, you’ll need to refuel in order to keep going.

For the most part, we will be burning fats and carbs during a hike, but protein is important to start the recovery process, plus to avoid your body from breaking down valuable lean muscle for fuel during the actual hike.

What Should I Drink When Hiking?

For me, while hiking I like to drink plain old water. I sometimes add electrolyte powder to my water on warmer days.

This allows you to replace minerals lost from the body through sweat and maintains your cell fluid balance.

If this is not achieved then your body won’t function efficiently and you can start to get cramps.

A hiker drinking water from his bottle.

There’s no harm in adding flavoring to your water either. In fact, it can prompt you to drink a little bit more because it tastes better.

But remember that you then won’t be able to use your water for cooking later on!

I find that the easiest way to stay hydrated is by using a water bladder, which allows me to easily access the water through the straw, rather than taking my pack off and grabbing a bottle.


How Much Should I Eat While Hiking?

How much you’ll eat on a day hike will depend on a few things such as how strenuous the hike is, how long it is, how much you weigh, and how much you usually eat.
For backpacking food, REI recommends about 2,500-4,500 calories per person per day.
It might be a bit less for day hikes, and will vary greatly on the above factors.

How Often Should I Eat While Hiking?

While you may be used to eating three larger meals a day, the best way to stay energized while hiking is by eating smaller snacks and meals, about every two hours.
Of course, you should eat when you’re hungry. But even if you don’t feel super hungry, you should be eating often to keep yourself fueled up.

Should I Eat More Than Normal When Hiking?

I wouldn’t say that you have to necessarily eat ‘more’ than normal when you’re hiking, but you should eat more often.
As I mentioned above, try eating a snack or meal about every two hours when on the trail.
But personally, I tend to eat more when I’m hiking because I’m outputting so much energy.

How Do I Strengthen My Body for Hiking?

If you’re looking to get stronger for hiking, it’s best to start working on things such as building endurance, working on your cardio, and strengthening your leg and core muscles.
This article by REI has a great list of activities you can do to better strengthen your body.

How Do You Fuel Your Body for Hiking?

The best way to fuel your body is to eat what your body needs, meaning nutritious, healthy foods and staying hydrated.

How Much Water Should I Drink While Hiking?

It’s recommended to drink about 1/2 liter of water for every 1 hour of hiking that you do.
For example, if I were to go on a 4-hour hike, I should plan to pack 2 liters of water to drink on the trail.

Should I Hike on an Empty Stomach?

No, it’s not recommended to hike on an empty stomach, simply because your body needs fuel to put out that energy.
You should eat a good, healthy breakfast beforehand and then bring along snacks as well as food for any meals that you’ll be out for.

Should You Carb Load Before a Hike?

It isn’t entirely necessary to have a full-on ‘carb load’ before a hike. Instead, have a healthy meal that’s filled with carbohydrates, protein, veggies, and plenty of nutrients.
And if that ends up being spaghetti or something that fits in the realm of carb load for you, then so be it!

Wrap-Up: Hiking Nutrition Tips

Hiking is fun and if you love to get outdoors, you’re going to want to feel your best.

Not enough people consider their nutrition when they’re planning a hike, but it’s so important!

After all, it is exercise, so paying extra special attention to what you eat is likely to help you get the best hiking experience possible.

It’s important to consider your nutrition before, during, and after your hike.

By following these hiking nutrition tips and learning more about yourself as you go, you can help give yourself the best experience out on the trail and stay energized and healthy while you go it!